Barcelona was like an oven when my wife and I arrived there for our honeymoon. The sun shone down into the narrow lanes of the Gothic Quarter, and the air was hot and musty, impossible to breathe. Everywhere we went, we saw Spanish women fanning themselves with lacquered hand fans as brightly colored as a peacock’s tail. My wife, who never wants anything, said, “I wish I had a fan.” We passed shops selling haunches of ham, pastel-colored gelato, and bright postcards of Picasso’s paintings—but there were no fans to be seen.
Having survived a gray, cold Boston winter, we craved hot summer days, but the sun in Barcelona had an edge of menace. It reminded me of my childhood in India, where the sun can cause dehydration and stun one’s brain into a mess of addled thoughts. And as we walked through the medieval squares and alleys of Barcelona, other things reminded me of India too: the butcher’s shops, with their purple goat carcasses; the women who appeared high up on balconies, hanging out their wash. Even the smell of Barcelona—of urine, unwashed bodies, and rice cooking—reminded me of the India I’d left so many years ago.